What Is a Content Management System (CMS): A Comprehensive Guide

5.5 min. read
A Content Management System (CMS) is a type of software that people, even those with no technical knowledge, can use to create, manage, and edit content. Learn how CMSs operate and why they're important for growing businesses.

Statistics are always fun, so here are a few:


43.6% of websites use a custom-made CMS. 


The CMS market will reach $123 billion by 2026.


WordPress powers 34% of the web.


Wait a second.


Do you know what a CMS is?


There are plenty of acronyms in the business world, and it can sometimes be challenging to keep track of them all. SEO, CMO, CPC, CRM, and now CMS.


In a nutshell, CMS stands for a content management system. It's a type of software that people, even those with no technical knowledge, can use to create, manage, and edit content. 


If once upon a time, you had to write code from scratch in order to create content for a website, today, you can do it with the help of a content management system, no coding required.


In this article, we'll take a look at how a content management system works and its major benefits. Then we'll look at some examples of content management systems, and tips for choosing the best platform for your needs. 


We'll wrap up by looking at some of the main features included in content management systems. Let's get started.

How Do Content Management Systems Work?

Every content management system is made up of two major parts: a content management application (CMA) and a content delivery application (CDA).


The CMA is the part that lets you add and manage content on your website. The CDA is the back-end part of the content management system that takes the content you add to your site, stores it, and makes it visible to your visitors.

What Is a Content Management System Used For?

You can build almost any type of website you want on a content management system. Some content management systems are better suited for building eCommerce stores, while others are more popular for building blogs and portfolios. 


In short, a content management system can power the following types of websites:


  • Static websites.

  • Blogs.

  • eCommerce stores.

  • Forums.

  • Social networks.

  • Online courses.

  • Membership sites.

  • Portfolios.

What Are the Benefits of a CMS?

Appropriate for businesses of all sizes. Regardless of whether you're a small eCommerce business selling handmade decorations or a large-size company like Walmart, you can easily and quickly build your site on one of the CMS platforms. You can now use a content management system to handle your site's infrastructure so you can focus on creating exciting, delightful content that results in more conversions and leads.


No coding required. Even users with limited technical knowledge can build a powerful website for their online business. You can create and publish content, install extensions, add functionality to your site, all without any coding skills. If you're one of the tech-savvy people and want to have full control of your site, you can add custom code to the content management system you're using. 


Collaboration. You can access and update your website from anywhere with an Internet connection. As long as they have the login info, multiple users can access the content management system and work in the back end at the same time. In other words, your content writer can be adding content while your IT professional is implementing security protocols. 


SEO features. The majority of content management systems offer an array of SEO tools to help you optimize your site for search engines. 


You'll get access to tools like:


  • Page titles and meta descriptions optimization.

  • Add image alt text.

  • Create 301 redirects.

  • Optimize URLs.

  • Mobile optimization.

  • Secure hosting.

  • Fast load time.

  • Instant Google indexing.

  • XML Sitemap.

What Are the Different Types of CMSs?

There are three broad types of content management systems: open source, proprietary, and Software-as-a-Service.


Open-source. WordPress and Joomla are two examples of open-source content management system platforms. You can download the content management software for free, with no prior license fees or contracts. However, there are some costs when working with an open-source content management system, including paying for themes and plugins, technical help (if you hire a developer), and more.


Proprietary. With proprietary software, the source code is not available to the public, and you may use it only if you purchase a special license key. 


Software-as-a-Service. A SaaS content management system is a platform that you don’t have to buy and move in-house. It exists in the cloud where you and your team can log in and make edits, anywhere, any time. The vendor maintains the software, takes care of the hosting, and deals with all your support queries for a monthly or yearly fee.

What Are Some Examples of Content Management Systems?

Let's look at seven great examples of content management system platforms:


Exai. Exai's CMS Website Builder is made for non-technical users to be able to build beautiful websites. Creating, editing, styling pages, cloning websites, billing, and setting permissions are all accessible from one customized dashboard. You can restrict editing access as needed, get one central gallery where you can categorize your pictures in folders that you define, organize pages in a tree hierarchy, and more. Thanks to our WYSIWYG editor (What You See Is What You Get), you will have insight into the final result while you are doing the changes.


WordPress. Millions of sites are powered by WordPress, which is an open-source platform. You can easily and quickly build your site using the Gutenberg editor and customize it by downloading any of the thousands of plugins and themes available on the WordPress directory. 


Joomla. Joomla is another open-source platform that might be suitable if you're looking for something with more functionality built-in. What makes Joomla a great content management system is its multilingual support built-in and advanced user and content management options. Overall, it's good for creating small and medium business websites.


Squarespace. Whether you want to build an eCommerce website or a blog, you can put together a visually appealing website on Squarespace in a matter of hours. What sets Squarespace apart is that it has the best-designed templates of any website builder. Many of the templates showcase beautiful photography, so they work exceptionally well for bloggers, photographers, and eCommerce sites.


Weebly. Weebly is one of the best content management systems for small websites and comes with all the tools you need to maintain an eCommerce site, portfolio, or blog. Its drag and drop editor is easy to use, and its themes are simple, modern, and mobile responsive.


Wix. Just like with Squarespace, Wix's main strengths are its templates. You can choose a template, use it as a base, and make edits to fit your style. It also has a powerful store app where you can find a range of marketing, management, and security tools. 


Drupal. Drupal is the content management system of choice for many large corporations and government agencies like NASA. Although you won't have to start building your website from scratch, you will need some web development experience to take advantage of the platform's full power.

How Do I Choose the Best CMS?

As we saw in the previous section above, there's a range of content management system platforms, each one with its own set of features and benefits. Some systems are more suited for building blogs and portfolio websites, while others are powerful eCommerce platforms


The best content management system for you depends on your needs.


Here are a few questions to ask yourself:


How much are you willing to spend? If you have a good budget, then you can go with a more complex content management system and upgrade it even further with different plugins. Even better, if you have the resources to get a technical team of developers, you can go with a content management system that can be upgraded with custom code. However, if your budget is limited, then you may want to consider opting for a platform that offers a cheaper paid plan. 


What do you want to build? If you want to build a beautiful website for your small business without spending too much time on it, then you should consider a content management system like Exai. Or, if you're a blogger, then Squarespace or WordPress may be the ideal pick. 


What type of content management system is best for you? One of the most important decisions you’ll have to make upfront is deciding between a SaaS, open-source, or proprietary software. 


Are you planning on scaling your business? If you plan on scaling your business, then make sure you choose a content management system that can quickly help your business grow. 


Are you looking for ease of use? If you want to add and edit web content with ease, then choose a content management system with a user-friendly interface. Ideally, the system will be easy to use, with features like a WYSIWYG editor.


Will you need integrations with other tools and software? Integrations are a great way to streamline your processes, reduce costs, and ensure efficiency. If you think that you might need integrations with marketing and business tools, or with tools like Google Analytics, make sure you go with a platform that offers plenty of integration options.

What Is CMS Migration?

CMS migration is moving a website from one CMS software to another. The reasons behind a CMS migration vary and include:


  • Troubles with website speed.

  • Bad customer support.

  • Frequent periods of server downtime.

  • An inability to handle large amounts of traffic.

  • Lack of functions and customization.

  • An inability to edit and manage your site on your own.


For example, a website owner who has their site on WordPress might be frustrated by the platform's security issues and want to switch to Drupal. A website owner who uses Joomla might be annoyed by the limited marketplace regarding adding plugins and want to move to Wix. 


The cost of website migration depends on the size of your site, the number of people involved in the process, and who you will choose to handle the migration. Website migration requires the help of a team of experts, including a webmaster, search engine optimization (SEO) experts, back-end developers, UX designers, and web content writers.


One option is to hire an in-house team or work with freelancers for a one-time project. 


There's a third option that we believe is the best option in terms of affordability, security, and convenience: to let the content management platform you're moving your site to handle the migration. 


If you opt to migrate your site to Exai, our team will take care of the website transfer so that you can take care of more important tasks such as optimizing your site. 

What Is the Difference Between Managed and Unmanaged CMS Hosting?

No matter which content management system you choose, your success rate will be much higher if you opt for a platform that offers hosting plans. In a nutshell, web hosting is a service that makes your website visible on the Internet.


When you opt for a content management system that offers a managed hosting plan, you'll be able to focus on the more important stuff, like building a beautiful website.


Whether you have issues with security or installing updates, the host will offer support for every problem or emergency. In most cases, managed hosting services include automated backups, monitoring, server setup, malware scanning and removal, security sweeps, and more. These additional features are the "manage" part of the term "managed hosting".


On the other hand, if you opt for a platform that doesn't offer web hosting plans, you'll have to find a reliable hosting company yourself. It involves researching online to see which hosting companies offer the most reliable plans and connecting your domain to your web host on your own. 

What Are the Main Features Included in CMS Platforms?

To choose the best content management system platform for your business, you need to ensure its features align with your needs and goals.


Here are some of the most important features that can help you create and manage a fully-functional and beautiful website:


Easy-to-use dashboard. The dashboard should be easy to use so that even non-technical users are able to build beautiful websites and easily edit them afterward. Some tasks that you should be able to manage from the dashboard include adding web content, scheduling content, installing modules and plugins, and more. 


SEO tools. A CMS with built-in SEO tools will help you rank higher and grow your search engine discoverability. It would help if you looked for SEO tools like mobile optimization, instant Google indexing, canonical URLs, keywords optimization, adding photo alt tags, meta titles and descriptions, and more.


Themes. When deciding on a content management system platform, take a look at the selection of themes each platform offers. Themes are crucial for establishing a consistent look and feel across your site and attracting visitors to come and stay on your site. Some platforms offer a selection of free themes, but if you need a more distinctive design, then you can also purchase a theme from the CMS's official marketplace.


Powerful content editor. A powerful content editor is essential if you want to create and publish different types of content. Many platforms have a WYSIWYG editor that lets you modify a page without typing a single HTML code line.

Social media integration. Social media integration is a great feature that can drive another type of traffic to your site in addition to organic traffic, called referral traffic. Some social media integrations to look for include social media sharing buttons, social media analytics, scheduling and publishing posts on social media, and more. 


Detailed analytics. The ideal content management system platform would have detailed analytics features that will let you measure insights like where your target personas are based, what devices they're using to access your site, how they're interacting with your site's content, and more. If a content management system doesn't have built-in analytics features, then you should look for integration with Google Analytics or another powerful analytics tool. 


Security. A good set of security features can help protect your site from outside attacks and your customers from having their private information stolen. A good platform should offer features like SSL certificate, protection against DDoS attacks, vulnerability scans, and more. 


Support. If you go with an open-source platform, know that these types of platforms don't have an in-house support team that you can call with a question. Instead, they provide extensive documentation and have large communities of users who manage forums, wikis, and user groups to fill in the gaps. If you would prefer to have a customer support agent to call when something unexpected happens with your site, like, for example, downtime, in that case, opting for a proprietary content management system is the better option for you.


Multilingual functionality. If you're targeting customers who speak different languages, you'll need a platform that offers multilingual functionality. Having this functionality will make it easy for you to create different language variations of your pages.

Key Takeaways

Using a content management system platform can be a sure way to grow your site over time. From adding articles and blogs to optimizing your web content, investing in the best content management system may be the best decision you've ever made.


The best content management system for you depends on your needs. For example, if you're looking for an open-source solution, then you can't go wrong with WordPress. Or, if you need a proprietary solution that's at the same time affordable and easy to use, then look no further than Exai.


Not only will a content management system keep all of your digital content neatly in one central place, it will also allow collaboration across teams, offer templates and extensions to customize your site, and SEO tools to rank your website on the first page of Google. 

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